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NFV Elements

Nokia Unveils Telco Cloud Hardware Platform

Nokia Networks has thrown its hat into the telco data center infrastructure ring with the launch of a new server, switch and storage system that has been developed with long-time collaborator Intel.

The infrastructure vendor has been working on what it calls its "telco cloud" strategy for some time, but until now that has been focused on software and supporting services. (See Nokia & Partners Unveil Virtual Mobile Network , Nokia's NFV Strategy Starts With VoLTE and NSN Gets Its Cloud On.)

Now Nokia Networks has launched its AirFrame Data Center solution, a family of servers, switches and storage units designed to meet the needs of a distributed cloud infrastructure environment that pools the power and resources of centralized and distributed data center hardware resources.

The hardware is based (currently) on Intel's Xeon x86 processors, making Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) the partner of choice for telco infrastructure vendors wanting to offer specific data center hardware platforms to telecom operators: The chip giant has also been busy in this sector with one of Nokia's main rivals, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC). (See Ericsson, Intel Target Telco Data Centers.)

But the relationship with Intel is not exclusive: Nokia also has plans to develop AirFrame hardware using ARM Ltd. processors.

But that's in the future: Right now, Nokia Networks wants to secure a role as a key partner to mobile operators that are devising their cloud and NFV strategies. In Nokia's eyes, that involves being able to offer a hardware platform that combines the best of the IT and telco worlds, in addition to a range of supporting software products (including virtual network functions) and professional services (consulting, planning, systems integration and so on).

The AirFrame architecture
The AirFrame Data Center solution is a combination of centralized and distributed data center capabilities that conform to open standards specifications such as those from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV Industry Specification Group (ISG), says Phil Twist, vice president of portfolio marketing at Nokia Networks.

"We are applying the IT cloud to the telecom sector, taking the flexibility, agility and scalability of the IT cloud and enabling it to deal with the security and traffic demands -- volumes and peaks -- of the telecom sector," he says.

"A centralized data center alone will not be able to meet the latency demands of the communications networking sector and if traffic is having to go to and from a centralized data center, that will create huge demands on the backbone. This new architecture combines centralized capabilities and distributed capabilities in hubs that support multiple radio access points -- it is a cloud radio architecture on which VNFs [virtual network functions] can operate," says Twist.

Nokia has long been active in the development of computing resources that can reside at or near mobile basestations: Its Liquid Applications development, also devised with help from Intel, has been under way for more than two years and the vendor is one of the leading participants in the Mobile-Edge Computing (MEC) Industry Specification Group (ISG) that was formed last year. (See Mobile-Edge Computing Group Gets Going, Nokia Networks Extends Liquid Applications and NSN: Understanding Liquid Applications.)

Twist says Nokia has developed the solution to be cost- and traffic-optimized for current and future mobile architectures. "This has been designed for the radio cloud and for 5G. In the AirFrame model, local functionality can be performed locally, because it is a cloud architecture that enables virtual functions to run at the edge of the network, while other functions can be performed centrally. The same cards are used at the edge and in centralized facilities and it has all the management and orchestration capabilities needed for a distributed architecture. This will fit beautifully with 5G deployments, especially in terms of the latency that will be required. This is telco grade but to IT standards."

Key to Nokia's pitch is the vendor's security story. It has integrated its Security Director, developed at its Berlin network security labs, into AirFrame. "This is an orchestrator for security policies, updating the security settings and capabilities as needed: If the security was included in the IT functionality of the servers, that could be a major overhead for an operator," says Twist. (See Nokia Offers Virtual OSS, VNF Service and NSN Plans Mobile Broadband Security Center in Berlin.)


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Nokia is hoping, naturally, to supply a full telco cloud implementation to its operator customers, but notes that AirFrame's open interface design means it will run software from third-party vendors, while operators can include third-party hardware as part of any deployment. Nokia has traditionally teamed up with HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) (HP) for data center servers and switches and that relationship is still in place. "There is no change to our existing partnership with HP," says Twist. (See Nokia, HP Stack Their Cloud NFV Bets.)

So are any operators putting AirFrame through its paces? Twist says the solution has been developed in "consultation with some major customers and is commercially available right now. We expect commercial deployments before the end of the year."

The Nokia man wouldn't say what level of business Nokia was hoping to generate from its new product line but noted that "within a flat market, the telco cloud sector is a pocket of growth and we are targeting that. It also enables us to address adjacent markets and this platform could also be used by telcos to offer services on to their customers."

He also declined to discuss what sort of role Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU)'s team and portfolio might play in AirFrame's development once Nokia has completed its acquisition of its peer. "We can't talk at this stage about Alcatel-Lucent -- we are still separate companies. As and when Alcatel-Lucent becomes part of Nokia, then we can start looking at what that portfolio might have to offer." (See Nokia & Alcatel-Lucent: What's Going On?)

The launch of AirFrame coincides with the opening of the TM Forum Live! show in Nice, France, where virtualization, cloud and NFV will be key buzzwords.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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